Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

ceffarily acquire additional strength from our favor. ite study.

2. In proportion as a science becomes more far miliar to us, we acquire a greater command of at. tention with respect to the objects about which it is conversant ; for the information which we already possess, gives us an interest in every new truth, and every new fact which have any relation to it. Jn most cases, our habits of inattention may be traced to a want of curiosity; and therefore such habits are to be corrected, not by endeavoring to force the attention in particular instances, but by gradually learning to place the ideas which we wish to remember, in an interesting point of view.

3. When we first enter on any new literary pursuit, we are unable to make a proper discrimination in point of utility and importance, among the ideas which are presented to us ; and by attempting to grasp at every thing, we fail in making those moderate acquisitions which are suited to the limited pow- . era of the human inind. As our information extends, our selection becomes more judicious and more confined ; and our knowledge of useful and connected truths advances rapidly, from our ceasing to distract the attention with such as are detached and insignificant

4. Every object of our knowledge is related to a variety of others; and may be presented to the thoughts, sometimes by one principle of affociation, and sometimes by another. In proportion, therefore, to the multiplication of mutual relations among our ideas, (which is the natural result of growing information, and in particular, of habits of phylofophical ftudy,) the greater will be the number of occasions on which they will recur to the recollection, and the firmer will be the root which each idea, in particular, will take in the memory.

It follows, too, from this observation, that the fa

cility of retaining a new fact, or a new idea, will depend on the number of relations which it bears to the former objects of our knowledge ; and, on the other hand, that every fuch acquisition, fo far from loading the memory, gives us a firmer hold of all that part of our previous imformation, with which it is in any degree connected.

It may not, perhaps, be improper to take this opportunity of obferving, although the remark be not iminediately connected with our present subject, that the accession made to the stock of our knowledge, by the new facts and ideas which we acquire, is not to be estimated merely by the number of these facts and ideas considered individually ; but by the number of relations which they bear to one another, and to all the different particulars which were previously in the mind ; for, “new knowledge,” (as Mr. Maclaurin has well remarked, *) “ does not consist fo much in s in our having access to a new object, as in com

paring it with others already known, observing its s relations to them, or discerning what it has in “ common with them, and wherein their disparity - consists : and, therefore, our knowledge is vastly

greater than the sum of what all its objects fepa6 rately could afford ; and when a new object comes " within our reach, the addition to our knowledge " is the greater, the more we already know ; so that “ it increases, not as the new objects increase, but in " a much higher proportion.”

5. In the last place, the natural powers of Memory are, in the case of the philosopher, greatly aided by his peculiar habits of classification and arrange.

As this is by far the most important improvement of which Memory is fufceptible, I shall consider it more particular than any of the others I have mentioned.

[ocr errors]

ment.

* See the Conclusion of his View of NEWTON'S Discoveries.

[ocr errors]

The adřantages which the memory derives from a proper classification of our ideas, may be best con, ceived by attending to its effects, in enabling us to conduct, with ease, the common business of life. In what inextrible confusion would the lawyer or the merchant be immediately involved, if he were to de. pofit, in his cabinet, promiscuously, the various written documents which daily and hourly pass through his hands ? Nor could this confusion be prevented by the natural powers of memory, however vigorous they might happen to be. By a proper distribu. tion of these documents, and a judicious referrence of them to a few general titles, a very ordinary memory is enabled to accomplish more, than the most retentive, unafsifted by method. We know, with certainty, where to find any article we may have occasion for, if it be in our poffeffion ; and the search is confined within reasonable limits, instead of being allowed to wander at random amidst a chaos of

particulars.

Or, to take an instance still more immediately applicable to our purpose : suppose that a man of letters were to record, in a common.place book, without any method, all the various ideas and facts which occurred to him in the course of his studies; what difficulties would he perpetually experience in apply. ing his acquisitions to use ? and how completely and easily might these difficulties be obviated by refering the particulars of his information to certain general heads ? It is obvious, too, that, by doing so, he would not only have his knowledge much more completely under his command, but as the particulars classed together would all have some connection more or less, with each other, he would be enabled to trace with advantage, those mutual relations among his ideas, which it is the object of philosophy to ascertain.

A common-place book, conducted without any.

method, is an exact picture of the memory of a man whose inquiries are not directed by philofophy. And the advantages of order in treasuring up our ideas in the mind, are perfectly analogous to its effects when they are recorded in writing.

Nor is this all. In order to retain our knowledge distinctly and permanently, it is necessary that we should frequently recal it to our recollection. But how can this be done without the aid of arrangement? Or supposing that it were possible, how much time and labor would be necessary for bringing under our view the various particulars of which our information is composed ? In proportion as it is properly {ystematised, this time and labor are abridged. The mind dwells habitually, not on detached facts, but on a comparatively small number of general principles; and, by means of these, it can summon up, as occafions may require, an infinite number of particulars associated with them ; each of which, considered as a solitary truth, would have been as burthen. some to the memory, as the general principle with which it is connected.

I would not wish it to be understood from these obfervations, that philosophy confifts in classification alone ; and that its only use is to assist the memory. I have often, indeed, heard this asserted in general terms; but it appears to me to be obvious, that although this be one of its most important uses, yet something more is necessary to complete the definition of it. Were the case otherwise, it would follow, that all classifications are equally philofophical proyided they are equally comprehensive. The very great importance of this subject will, I hope, be a sufficient apology for me, in taking this opportunity to correct some mistaken opinions which have been formed concerning it,

[ocr errors]

SECTION IV.

Continuation of the fame subject.-Aid which the Memo.

ry derives from Philofophical Arrangement.

IT was before observed, that the great use of the faculty of Memory, is to enable us to treasure up, for the future regulation of our conduct, the results of our past experience, and of our past reflections. But in every case in which we judge of the future from the past, we must proceed on the belief, that there is, in the course of events, a certain degree, at leaft, of uniformity. And, accordingly, this belief is not only justified by experience, but (as Dr. Reid has shewn, in a very satisfactory manner) it forms a part of the original constitution of the human mind. In the general laws of the material world, this uni. formity is found to be complete ;. infomuch that, in the same combinations of circumstances, we expect, with the moft perfect assurance, that the same results will take place. In the moral world, the course of events does not appear to be equally regular; but still it is regular, to so great a degree, as to afford us many rules of importance in the conduct of life.

A knowledge of Nature, in so far as it is absolute. ly necessary for the preservation of our animal ex. istence, is obtruded on us, without any reflection on our part, from our earliest infancy. It is thus that children learn of thernfelves to accommodate their conduct to the established laws of the material world. In doing so, they are guided merely by memory, and the instinctive principle of anticipation, which has just been mentioned.

In forming conclusions concerning future events, the philosopher, as well as the infant, can only build with safety on past experience; and he, too, as well as the infant, proceeds on an instinctive belief, for

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »